Firefighters climb for a cause
Last updated 3/21/2023 at Noon
Each year in March, a team of firefighter-athletes from Sisters Country joins a couple thousand of their peers for a grueling climb up the stairway of a skyscraper in Seattle, Washington.
It’s a great way to build and test fitness for a physically demanding job — but more than that, it is an opportunity to serve a cause that is meaningful — sometimes very personally — to those first responders.
A cadre of Sisters and Cloverdale firefighters loaded with more than 60 pounds of gear, and operating breathing apparatus, climbed 69 flights of stairs in Seattle’s Columbia Tower, taking 1,356 steps to cover 788 vertical feet of climb in the 32nd Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Firefighter Stairclimb.
The event is the world’s largest “on-air” stairclimb competition for career, volunteer, or retired firefighters. Competitors commit to raising a minimum of $300 per person for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
Sisters-Camp Sherman Fire District Deputy Chief Tim Craig told The Nugget, “So far our team has raised a little over $16,000. Our goal was $10,000, so we’ve blown way past that.”
In aggregate, the event has raised millions of dollars into research around blood cancers and to support those who have been diagnosed and their families. That impact is a motivator for the participants, according to Cloverdale firefighter and Sisters volunteer Travis Bootes, who serves as team captain.
“Some of us have had close encounters with people with cancer, so it hits close to home,” he said.
The event poses a real challenge. Climbing while on a breathing apparatus requires careful regulation of breathing while under the considerable strain of steady climbing with a heavy load. A few participants perform the full climb on one bottle of oxygen; most do at least one swap, which demands speed and skill to accomplish without burning too much time off the clock.
“Start slow and steady, finish slow and steady,” said Chief Craig. “That ultimately leads to a better time.”
Each team member is responsible for their own training. The best way to train for the climb is to climb stairs — but Sisters doesn’t offer any skyscrapers to train in. So the athletes work out on a stair mill (a gym apparatus), using weighted vests to simulate the load of turnouts and gear. There are mask devices that can be used to simulate the breathing restrictions of apparatus.
Bootes is a big believer in training hard.
“The more we train in full gear, the better we are across the board,” he said.
Rob Harrison, 49, was the team standout, turning in a time of 19:10.
“The oldest member of our team raised the most money and had the best time,” Bootes said.